Search This Blog

Loading...

Chapter 39: Conclusion


In his solitary retreat on the shore of the sea, whose mobile surface was visible through the open, windows, extending outward until it mingled with the horizon, Padre Florentino was relieving the monotony by playing on his harmonium sad and melancholy tunes, to which the sonorous roar of the surf and the sighing of the treetops of the neighboring wood served as accompaniments. Notes long, full, mournful as a prayer, yet still vigorous, escaped from the old instrument. Padre Florentino, who was an accomplished musician, was improvising, and, as he was alone, gave free rein to the sadness in his heart.
For the truth was that the old man was very sad. His good friend, Don Tiburcio de Espadaña, had just left him, fleeing from the persecution of his wife. That morning he had received a note from the lieutenant of the Civil Guard, which ran thus:
MY DEAR CHAPLAIN,—I have just received from the commandant a telegram that says, “Spaniard hidden house Padre Florentino capture forward alive dead.” As the telegram is quite explicit, warn your friend not to be there when I come to arrest him at eight tonight.
Affectionately,
PEREZ
Burn this note.
“T-that V-victorina!” Don Tiburcio had stammered. “S-she’s c-capable of having me s-shot!”
Padre Florentino was unable to reassure him. Vainly he pointed out to him that the word cojera should have read cogerá,1 and that the hidden Spaniard could not be Don [353] Tiburcio, but the jeweler Simoun, who two days before had arrived, wounded and a fugitive, begging for shelter. But Don Tiburcio would not be convinced—cojera was his own lameness, his personal description, and it was an intrigue of Victorina’s to get him back alive or dead, as Isagani had written from Manila. So the poor Ulysses had left the priest’s house to conceal himself in the hut of a woodcutter.
No doubt was entertained by Padre Florentino that the Spaniard wanted was the jeweler Simoun, who had arrived mysteriously, himself carrying the jewel-chest, bleeding, morose, and exhausted. With the free and cordial Filipino hospitality, the priest had taken him in, without asking indiscreet questions, and as news of the events in Manila had not yet reached his ears he was unable to understand the situation clearly. The only conjecture that occurred to him was that the General, the jeweler’s friend and protector, being gone, probably his enemies, the victims of wrong and abuse, were now rising and calling for vengeance, and that the acting Governor was pursuing him to make him disgorge the wealth he had accumulated—hence his flight. But whence came his wounds? Had he tried to commit suicide? Were they the result of personal revenge? Or were they merely caused by an accident, as Simoun claimed? Had they been received in escaping from the force that was pursuing him?
This last conjecture was the one that seemed to have the greatest appearance of probability, being further strengthened by the telegram received and Simoun’s decided unwillingness from the start to be treated by the doctor from the capital. The jeweler submitted only to the ministrations of Don Tiburcio, and even to them with marked distrust. In this situation Padre Florentino was asking himself what [354] line of conduct he should pursue when the Civil Guard came to arrest Simoun. His condition would not permit his removal, much less a long journey—but the telegram said alive or dead.
Padre Florentine ceased playing and approached the window to gaze out at the sea, whose desolate surface was without a ship, without a sail—it gave him no suggestion. A solitary islet outlined in the distance spoke only of solitude and made the space more lonely. Infinity is at times despairingly mute.
The old man was trying to analyze the sad and ironical smile with which Simoun had received the news that he was to be arrested. What did that smile mean? And that other smile, still sadder and more ironical, with which he received the news that they would not come before eight at night? What did all this mystery signify? Why did Simoun refuse to hide? There came into his mind the celebrated saying of St. John Chrysostom when he was defending the eunuch Eutropius: “Never was a better time than this to say—Vanity of vanities and all is vanity!”
Yes, that Simoun, so rich, so powerful, so feared a week ago, and now more unfortunate than Eutropius, was seeking refuge, not at the altars of a church, but in the miserable house of a poor native priest, hidden in the forest, on the solitary seashore! Vanity of vanities and all is vanity! That man would within a few hours be a prisoner, dragged from the bed where he lay, without respect for his condition, without consideration for his wounds—dead or alive his enemies demanded him! How could he save him? Where could he find the moving accents of the bishop of Constantinople? What weight would his weak words have, the words of a native priest, whose own humiliation this same Simoun had in his better days seemed to applaud and encourage?
But Padre Florentine no longer recalled the indifferent reception that two months before the jeweler had accorded to him when he had tried to interest him in favor of Isagani, then a prisoner on account of his imprudent chivalry; he forgot the activity Simoun had displayed in urging Paulita’s marriage, which had plunged Isagani into the fearful misanthropy that was worrying his uncle. He forgot all these things and thought only of the sick man’s plight and his own obligations as a host, until his senses reeled. Where must he hide him to avoid his falling into the clutches of the authorities? But the person chiefly concerned was not worrying, he was smiling.
While he was pondering over these things, the old man was approached by a servant who said that the sick man wished to speak with him, so he went into the next room, a clean and well-ventilated apartment with a floor of wide boards smoothed and polished, and simply furnished with big, heavy armchairs of ancient design, without varnish or paint. At one end there was a large kamagon bed with its four posts to support the canopy, and beside it a table covered with bottles, lint, and bandages. A praying-desk at the feet of a Christ and a scanty library led to the suspicion that it was the priest’s own bedroom, given up to his guest according to the Filipino custom of offering to the stranger the best table, the best room, and the best bed in the house. Upon seeing the windows opened wide to admit freely the healthful sea-breeze and the echoes of its eternal lament, no one in the Philippines would have said that a sick person was to be found there, since it is the custom to close all the windows and stop up all the cracks just as soon as any one catches a cold or gets an insignificant headache.
Padre Florentine looked toward the bed and was astonished to see that the sick man’s face had lost its tranquil and ironical expression. Hidden grief seemed to knit his brows, anxiety was depicted in his looks, his lips were curled in a smile of pain.
“Are you suffering, Señor Simoun?” asked the priest solicitously, going to his side.
“Some! But in a little while I shall cease to suffer,” he replied with a shake of his head.
Padre Florentine clasped his hands in fright, suspecting that he understood the terrible truth. “My God, what have you done? What have you taken?” He reached toward the bottles.
“It’s useless now! There’s no remedy at all!” answered Simoun with a pained smile. “What did you expect me to do? Before the clock strikes eight—alive or dead—dead, yes, but alive, no!”
“My God, what have you done?”
“Be calm!” urged the sick man with a wave of his hand. “What’s done is done. I must not fall into anybody’s hands—my secret would be torn from me. Don’t get excited, don’t lose your head, it’s useless! Listen—the night is coming on and there’s no time to be lost. I must tell you my secret, and intrust to you my last request, I must lay my life open before you. At the supreme moment I want to lighten myself of a load, I want to clear up a doubt of mine. You who believe so firmly in God—I want you to tell me if there is a God!”
“But an antidote, Señor Simoun! I have ether, chloroform—”
The priest began to search for a flask, until Simoun cried impatiently, “Useless, it’s useless! Don’t waste time! I’ll go away with my secret!”
The bewildered priest fell down at his desk and prayed at the feet of the Christ, hiding his face in his hands. Then he arose serious and grave, as if he had received from his God all the force, all the dignity, all the authority of the Judge of consciences. Moving a chair to the head of the bed he prepared to listen.
At the first words Simoun murmured, when he told his real name, the old priest started back and gazed at him in terror, whereat the sick man smiled bitterly. Taken by surprise, the priest was not master of himself, but he soon recovered, and covering his face with a handkerchief again bent over to listen.
Simoun related his sorrowful story: how, thirteen years before, he had returned from Europe filled with hopes and smiling illusions, having come back to marry a girl whom he loved, disposed to do good and forgive all who had wronged him, just so they would let him live in peace. But it was not so. A mysterious hand involved him in the confusion of an uprising planned by his enemies. Name, fortune, love, future, liberty, all were lost, and he escaped only through the heroism of a friend. Then he swore vengeance. With the wealth of his family, which had been buried in a wood, he had fled, had gone to foreign lands and engaged in trade. He took part in the war in Cuba, aiding first one side and then another, but always profiting. There he made the acquaintance of the General, then a major, whose good-will he won first by loans of money, and afterwards he made a friend of him by the knowledge of criminal secrets. With his money he had been able to secure the General’s appointment and, once in the Philippines, he had used him as a blind tool and incited him to all kinds of injustice, availing himself of his insatiable lust for gold.
The confession was long and tedious, but during the whole of it the confessor made no further sign of surprise and rarely interrupted the sick man. It was night when Padre Florentino, wiping the perspiration from his face, arose and began to meditate. Mysterious darkness flooded the room, so that the moonbeams entering through the window filled it with vague lights and vaporous reflections.
Into the midst of the silence the priest’s voice broke sad and deliberate, but consoling: “God will forgive you, Señor—Simoun,” he said. “He knows that we are fallible, He has seen that you have suffered, and in ordaining that the chastisement for your faults should come as death from the very ones you have instigated to crime, we can see His infinite mercy. He has frustrated your plans one by one, the best conceived, first by the death of Maria Clara, then by a lack of preparation, then in some mysterious way. Let us bow to His will and render Him thanks!”  
“According to you, then,” feebly responded the sick man, “His will is that these islands—”
“Should continue in the condition in which they suffer?” finished the priest, seeing that the other hesitated. “I don’t know, sir, I can’t read the thought of the Inscrutable. I know that He has not abandoned those peoples who in their supreme moments have trusted in Him and made Him the Judge of their cause, I know that His arm has never failed when, justice long trampled upon and every recourse gone, the oppressed have taken up the sword to fight for home and wife and children, for their inalienable rights, which, as the German poet says, shine ever there above, unextinguished and inextinguishable, like the eternal stars themselves. No, God is justice, He cannot abandon His cause, the cause of liberty, without which no justice is possible.”
“Why then has He denied me His aid?” asked the sick man in a voice charged with bitter complaint.
“Because you chose means that He could not sanction,” was the severe reply. “The glory of saving a country is not for him who has contributed to its ruin. You have believed that what crime and iniquity have defiled and deformed, another crime and another iniquity can purify and redeem. Wrong! Hate never produces anything but monsters and crime criminals! Love alone realizes wonderful works, virtue alone can save! No, if our country has ever to be free, it will not be through vice and crime, it will not be so by corrupting its sons, deceiving some and bribing others, no! Redemption presupposes virtue, virtue sacrifice, and sacrifice love!”
“Well, I accept your explanation,” rejoined the sick man, after a pause. “I have been mistaken, but, because I have been mistaken, will that God deny liberty to a people and yet save many who are much worse criminals than I am? What is my mistake compared to the crimes of our rulers? Why has that God to give more heed to my iniquity than to the cries of so many innocents? Why has He not stricken me down and then made the people triumph? Why does He let so many worthy and just ones suffer and look complacently upon their tortures?”
“The just and the worthy must suffer in order that their ideas may be known and extended! You must shake or shatter the vase to spread its perfume, you must smite the rock to get the spark! There is something providential in the persecutions of tyrants, Señor Simoun!”
“I knew it,” murmured the sick man, “and therefore I encouraged the tyranny.”
“Yes, my friend, but more corrupt influences than anything else were spread. You fostered the social rottenness without sowing an idea. From this fermentation of vices loathing alone could spring, and if anything were born overnight it would be at best a mushroom, for mushrooms only can spring spontaneously from filth. True it is that the vices of the government are fatal to it, they cause its death, but they kill also the society in whose bosom they are developed. An immoral government presupposes a demoralized people, a conscienceless administration, greedy and servile citizens in the settled parts, outlaws and brigands in the mountains. Like master, like slave! Like government, like country!”
A brief pause ensued, broken at length by the sick man’s voice. “Then, what can be done?”
“Suffer and work!”
“Suffer—work!” echoed the sick man bitterly. “Ah, it’s easy to say that, when you are not suffering, when the work is rewarded. If your God demands such great sacrifices from man, man who can scarcely count upon the present and doubts the future, if you had seen what I have, the miserable, the wretched, suffering unspeakable tortures for crimes they have not committed, murdered to cover up the faults and incapacity of others, poor fathers of families torn from their homes to work to no purpose upon highways that are destroyed each day and seem only to serve for sinking families into want. Ah, to suffer, to work, is the will of God! Convince them that their murder is their salvation, that their work is the prosperity of the home! To suffer, to work! What God is that?”
“A very just God, Señor Simoun,” replied the priest. “A God who chastises our lack of faith, our vices, the little esteem in which we hold dignity and the civic virtues. We tolerate vice, we make ourselves its accomplices, at times we applaud it, and it is just, very just that we suffer the consequences, that our children suffer them. It is the God of liberty, Señor Simoun, who obliges us to love it, by making the yoke heavy for us—a God of mercy, of equity, who while He chastises us, betters us and only grants prosperity to him who has merited it through his efforts. The school of suffering tempers, the arena of combat strengthens the soul.
“I do not mean to say that our liberty will be secured at the sword’s point, for the sword plays but little part in modern affairs, but that we must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it, by exalting the intelligence and the dignity of the individual, by loving justice, right, and greatness, even to the extent of dying for them,—and when a people reaches that height God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, the tyranny will crumble like a house of cards and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.
“Our ills we owe to ourselves alone, so let us blame no one. If Spain should see that we were less complaisant with tyranny and more disposed to struggle and suffer for our rights, Spain would be the first to grant us liberty, because when the fruit of the womb reaches maturity woe unto the mother who would stifle it! So, while the Filipino people has not sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood; while we see our countrymen in private life ashamed within themselves, hear the voice of conscience roar in rebellion and protest, yet in public life keep silence or even echo the words of him who abuses them in order to mock the abused; while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the most iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty—why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worse! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.
“Señor Simoun, when our people is unprepared, when it enters the fight through fraud and force, without a clear understanding of what it is doing, the wisest attempts will fail, and better that they do fail, since why commit the wife to the husband if he does not sufficiently love her, if he is not ready to die for her?”
Padre Florentino felt the sick man catch and press his hand, so he became silent, hoping that the other might speak, but he merely felt a stronger pressure of the hand, heard a sigh, and then profound silence reigned in the room. Only the sea, whose waves were rippled by the night breeze, as though awaking from the heat of the day, sent its hoarse roar, its eternal chant, as it rolled against the jagged rocks. The moon, now free from the sun’s rivalry, peacefully commanded the sky, and the trees of the forest bent down toward one another, telling their ancient legends in mysterious murmurs borne on the wings of the wind.
The sick man said nothing, so Padre Florentino, deeply thoughtful, murmured: “Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions, and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land? Where are the youth who will generously pour out their blood to wash away so much shame, so much crime, so much abomination? Pure and spotless must the victim be that the sacrifice may be acceptable! Where are you, youth, who will embody in yourselves the vigor of life that has left our veins, the purity of ideas that has been contaminated in our brains, the fire of enthusiasm that has been quenched in our hearts? We await you, O youth! Come, for we await you!”
Feeling his eyes moisten he withdrew his hand from that of the sick man, arose, and went to the window to gaze out upon the wide surface of the sea. He was drawn from his meditation by gentle raps at the door. It was the servant asking if he should bring a light.
When the priest returned to the sick man and looked at him in the light of the lamp, motionless, his eyes closed, the hand that had pressed his lying open and extended along the edge of the bed, he thought for a moment that he was sleeping, but noticing that he was not breathing touched him gently, and then realized that he was dead. His body had already commenced to turn cold. The priest fell upon his knees and prayed.
When he arose and contemplated the corpse, in whose features were depicted the deepest grief, the tragedy of a whole wasted life which he was carrying over there beyond death, the old man shuddered and murmured, “God have mercy on those who turned him from the straight path!”
While the servants summoned by him fell upon their knees and prayed for the dead man, curious and bewildered as they gazed toward the bed, reciting requiem after requiem, Padre Florentino took from a cabinet the celebrated steel chest that contained Simoun’s fabulous wealth. He hesitated for a moment, then resolutely descended the stairs and made his way to the cliff where Isagani was accustomed to sit and gaze into the depths of the sea.
Padre Florentino looked down at his feet. There below he saw the dark billows of the Pacific beating into the hollows of the cliff, producing sonorous thunder, at the same time that, smitten by the moonbeams, the waves and foam glittered like sparks of fire, like handfuls of diamonds hurled into the air by some jinnee of the abyss. He gazed about him. He was alone. The solitary coast was lost in the distance amid the dim cloud that the moonbeams played through, until it mingled with the horizon. The forest murmured unintelligible sounds.
Then the old man, with an effort of his herculean arms, hurled the chest into space, throwing it toward the sea. It [363] whirled over and over several times and descended rapidly in a slight curve, reflecting the moonlight on its polished surface. The old man saw the drops of water fly and heard a loud splash as the abyss closed over and swallowed up the treasure. He waited for a few moments to see if the depths would restore anything, but the wave rolled on as mysteriously as before, without adding a fold to its rippling surface, as though into the immensity of the sea a pebble only had been dropped.
“May Nature guard you in her deep abysses among the pearls and corals of her eternal seas,” then said the priest, solemnly extending his hands. “When for some holy and sublime purpose man may need you, God will in his wisdom draw you from the bosom of the waves. Meanwhile, there you will not work woe, you will not distort justice, you will not foment avarice!”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your thoughts?

Contact Us

Name

Email *

Message *